November 22, 2007

Banning Books from Schools a Bad Idea

School board pulls ‘anti-God’ book

I can only hope that Halton's Catholic school board will make the right decision and reinstate Philip Pullman's trilogy back to into their school libraries. Banning a book because it is written by an atheist and has an 'anti-God' theme are poor reasons to remove access by students. Even in the context that all of the claims against Pullman and his 'His Dark Materials' series are true, organized religion and its people should not be censoring because something may challenge held views.

Censorship hasn't always worked in the past and probably won't work here. Banning the books bring greater attention to them but with that will also come greater curiousity. Greater curiousity often leads to the opposite result of what the ban was supposed to do. And unfortunately for the board or supporters of the ban, children are naturally curious and are likely to search out things that are 'taboo'. One only has to look at the results of abstinence-only sexual education where often students are more likely to have sex or sexual relations.(1) If you tell the kids it's bad, they will try to find out why. The same likely could be said for drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc.

Banning the book also begs the question: 'What are they (the Church, religious followers or in this case, a Catholic school board) so afraid of?' It's a question that needs to be asked because if a religion, philosophy, theory, opinion or whatever, will not stand up to its critics and the criticism directed at it, then it runs the risk of becoming meaningless and void of value. Even the big religions must be willing to stand up for themselves and defend their existence to hold any weight or substance, otherwise they will be nothing more words on paper and purely dogmatic thinking. This, ultimately, should be a concern for those who promote and lead their faiths. If their religion or beliefs become only dogma and refuse to address the critics, they will not only turn away potential believers but also alienate many current ones by having nothing of substance to offer.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I hope Halton's Catholic board makes the right decision and reinstates the books into their libraries. The books made their mark by not being anti-God or anti-religion but because they are good stories with many good messages contained in them that are not necessarily anti-anything. If a student has a question about the theme, teachers should be prepared to address it - openly and honestly. Create a dialogue about it because no real harm will come about from any faithful dialogue but is likely to come from censorship.

See Also:

I'm going to suggest a further reading of this discussion between Philip Pullman and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. Great insight from both men on the religious theme found in Pullman's books as well as enlightening on the topic of religion in general.

And at the risk of seeming pretentious I'm including a passage from J.S. Mill's On Liberty. It's completely relevant to the problem of censorship and it's also a guiding light in my own thinking.

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.
Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any object is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.
Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.

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Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)